Caring for Your Older Dog: Common Health Concerns

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Veterinarians say that dogs between the ages of 7 and 10 years old can be categorized as “senior” dogs. The actual age may vary depending on the size and breed of your particular dog, with larger dogs showing signs of age earlier than smaller ones.

What are some health issues that owners of older dogs should be aware of? Every dog is an individual, but here are some common health problems to look out for and ask your vet about.

Deafness: Signs of hearing loss in senior dogs can include not responding to sounds like the doorbell and other dogs barking, sleeping more deeply than usual, and acting startled when you wake him up. You can test for hearing loss by seeing how he reacts to a sound made behind him. See your vet to rule out physical causes like infections or wax buildup. Older dogs with hearing loss respond very well to visual commands, so you can speak to a trainer about incorporating hand signals into your commands.

Cancer: Experts say more than half of senior pets will develop some form of cancer. Cancer is common in older dogs as their immune systems get weaker. Dogs can develop tumors in their organs and lymph nodes, which are not always detected through routine blood tests. Loss of appetite and weight can be an indicator of cancer. Your vet will feel for lumps and take images of the abdomen. Cancer can mimic other health problems in older pets, so it is important to take your senior dog to the vet for regular wellness exams.

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Arthritis: Arthritis impacts at least one in five senior dogs. Signs of arthritis include your dog acting like he can’t get into a comfortable position, limping when he walks, or trembling when first standing up. See your vet to confirm that your dog is suffering from arthritis. There are many different treatments you can try, including dietary supplements, medications, weight loss, appropriate exercise, and heat therapy. Your older dog can live a comfortable life with arthritis with a little extra care and some lifestyle changes.

Kidney and Intestinal Problems: The chance of kidney disease (renal failure) increases as your dog ages. A common sign of kidney problems is increased water intake and urination. Often, the kidney failure is already quite advanced when these symptoms present themselves. Talk to your vet about changes in diet and medication. Some kidney problems are reversible with prompt treatment and others can be managed to give your dog several more months of life.

Older dogs can experience a wide range of digestive problems. These can vary from constipation to diarrhea to incontinence (loss of bowel control). See your veterinarian about bowel problems in your dog to rule out cancer, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or blockages. A change in diet may be needed for senior dogs with digestive problems. Less activity and slower metabolism in older dogs may require a senior diet dog food. Senior diet foods generally contain fewer calories, more fiber, and added vitamins.